Accordions Worldwide Celebrity Interview, Renzo Ruggieri
Celebrity Interviews

Peppini Principe

Interview by Renzo Ruggieri
Pineto, 16 March 2006

Q. Why the accordion ?
A. It was my destiny, in that , influenced by my father Michele (an excellent musician and great father), I started on the drums at the age of 6 years, before approaching wind instruments clarinet/sax and at the age of 10 years, joined the local town band.

Following on from that I had an unforeseeable accident: I fell over and tore my lip - a big setback for playing wind instruments. Looking at a large accordion of my fathers', it appealed to me. I asked for a smaller one which was provided and I started playing casually until my father invited me to take lessons with the large accordion.

Because of the dimensions of the instrument, for a year I only played the bass. Eventually I grew and could see the keyboard and started serious study

Q. We know that after the lessons from your father, you proceeded to teach yourself. How did you reach such great heights
A. I left Monte Sant'Angelo ( my home town), for Milan with my elder brother Leonardo (one of the most important post war jazz musicians) with the intention of going to the Conservatory to study piano - the accordion was not yet a course subject.

I didn't go through the admission procedure because I was already working for an entertainment company. I was unable however to get into the mainstream as these were the years of Gorni Kramer, Wolmer Beltrami and Michele Corino. Personally I was only schooled till the 5th elementary class and everything that I have done since has arrived naturally and second with my talent and efforts.
Q. You have written music for every type of formation from solo , duo, combo, big band and finally symphonic orchestras. Technically how did did you do this and how did you get the inspiration?
A. Technically, I believe application is important: the artist receives messages, if he then values and studies them, he is then able to transmit the message: otherwise he loses it.

I had the most striking example with the tune EL BANDIDO which originated as a sound track. I went to the cinema to try and get a feel for the meccanisms of cinematography and when I went home, while my brother was preparing dinner, I wrote a melody - millions of copies have been sold.

Writing for a symphonic orchestra however, was a dream that I realised with the help of Carlo Esposito, who transcribed the parts for piano and accordion.

Q. You have passed through many musical styles and always at a very high level. With which do you feel most comfortable and why?
A. Jazz certainly, because I was born and have lived through that era. I was born in 1927 and 10 years later came the boom times for jazz with Benny Goodman in the USA and Gorni Kramer in Italy.

But my real musical education occurred in 1943/45 when I was living in Bari and working for the allies. I had the possibility of listening to all the great jazz men of the time - including the Joe Mooney quartet.

I formed a similar group "Quintet Hot " that evolved in Milan into "Quintetto Principe" which recorded many numbers that now form part of the history of Italian jazz, recently receiving very good reviews after their re- issue.
Q. In your recent autobiography: " The Prince of the Accordion" you reveal a secret about the rivalry between yourself and Tony Romano. Can you tell us something?
A. For those who remember, Tony Romano in the 1950's was the most popular accordionist - even more than Kramer. In the book I reveal that Tony R was in fact me.

Kramer had left Fonit-Cetra and I was already signed to Vis-Napoli when the head of Fonit called offering me to take over from Kramer. I replied that I could not as I was already signed up, but in those days it was common to use stage names and that was offered as an option. I decided to call myself Tony Romano and in the space of a few years sales reached impressive levels (even abroad).

After having made those recordings, I forgot about them until, returning home after a long spell abroad, I saw an advertisement at the cinema which said " Tony Romano - the accordionist of the moment". I heard the music and thought "I know him".

The head of Vis-Radio called me and asked me to imitate him which I did. Afterwards at dinner with the head of my publishing company he presented me as the famous Tony Romano… after the surprise he hugged me and said "you are beating your rival".
Q. You have impressed people the world over in a thosuand tours. Which one was your favourite?
A. Russia in 1957. Whilst the politicians were angry that I was playing American music and forbid me to do so, the 2 artists Katchaturian and Shostakovic asked me to play jazz in private for them. The Russian people were a most attentive public.

Q. How would you define the accordion style of Peppino Principe and how do you approach jazz?
A. Absolutely spontaneously. I created my own personal style with an American ambience in Italy. As far as I know its original as being neither European or American.

When I left the Americans and started to record in 1946, I did not know about bebop, but listening to myself now, I realise that I was a bopper and that I was accidently ahead of the times. In summary, I think that my style is instinctive.
Q. How do you define your style as a composer?
A. Even here I feel that I am a jazzman. In fact, the best thing I have written is "Jazz Accordion Concert" for big band and with the accordion in this setting, I feel at ease.

The rest are momentary things that serve to keep ideas coming. I would have been the happiest accordionist in the world if I could only have played jazz.

Q. With regard to jazz and Kramer - the original avantgarde Principe is the same man as today?
A. The key element is passion for jazz even though I do not find much in common between the jazz of today and of yesterday. As regards Kramer, he was a idol for me (I had fun imitating him) even though stylistically speaking, we had nothing in common.

In everything that I have done until now, I have tried to improvise, even in places which I have played many times. I have always tried to change my performance, irrespective of the style of music. Here is a curiosity from the old days: Kramer would write almost all his solos whilst Wolmer, notoriously strict in the excution of his prepared solos, would sometimes improvise.

In summary, I think of myself not as an accordionist or composer or band leader but simply as a creative artist.
Q. What is art?
A. It is a gift from God that takes the human being above other creatures on our planet.... creating a culture. Unfortunately, this has lost signifance in todays' society and consumerism leads us, to not value that which we do.
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